Donnelly: The California Republican Party Was Destroyed by Its Moderate Leaders and Donors

Schwarzenegger wax models (Hector Mata / AFP / Getty)
Hector Mata / AFP / Getty

It didn’t take long for pundits to write breathless columns on why President Donald Trump is to blame for the death of the California Republican Party.

Ousted CA GOP Board Member Kristin Olsen penned a weak essay in CalMatters this week blaming Trump without naming him.

Then Politico’s Carla Marinucci wrote a piece based on interviews with a whole host of so-called “Republican” experts and strategists like Never Trumper Mike Madrid — even though Madrid spent this latest election advising gubernatorial hopeful Antonio Villaraigosa—a Democrat.

Seriously? Should the CA GOP take advice from a Democratic consultant like Madrid?

It’s ironic that at no point did Marinucci or Olsen ever take a hard look at how the CA GOP leadership — those currently pointing fingers at Trump — personally drove the party into an early grave.

Starting in 2012, GOP Chairman Jim Brulte decided to expand the donor base of the party by inviting the left-wing Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to join the CA GOP in picking off vocal conservatives.

Moreover, it was Brulte who brokered a deal with Charles Munger, Jr.

Munger, the erstwhile son of billionaire Charles Munger, best known as Warren Buffet’s business partner, has attempted to remake the CA GOP in his own image: a weak, bow-tie-wearing version of its former self.

Republican Party registration began sliding into irrelevancy as soon as Brulte/Munger took over, dropping under 30% and continuing its downward slide on Olsen/Dillon’s watch, bottoming out in 2018 when barely a quarter of the California electorate was willing to identify as Republican.

After bailing the CA GOP out of its $3 million debt, Munger dumped about $80 million individually and through his Spirit of Democracy PAC into an effort to transform the GOP into a “kinder, gentler” version of the Democratic Party. Munger funded a civil war between the conservative grassroots activists who make up the party base, and the elitists who make up the donor class.

Using his money and influence, Munger succeeded in defanging the grassroots by buying control of almost every central committee in each of the 58 counties—seeding some with a few thousand dollars, and pumping close to a million dollars into others.

By turning the CA GOP into the party of “pale pastels” that Reagan detested, the party ceased to do the most important thing a political party should do: win elections.

Under the direction of Brulte, the party splintered into two distinct entities, and began to lose everywhere as a house divided — even races it should have won by a landslide.

Blaming Trump is just a distraction to divert attention away from the latest public relations nightmare of the CA GOP.

This happened in 2017, when eight Republicans joined the likes of then-State Assembly minority leader Chad Mayes (and rumored deal architect Jay Obernolte) in selling out the Republican stance on climate change and colluding with Gov. Jerry Brown on cap-and-trade renewal.

To add insult to injury, the CA GOP leadership invested all its political capital in repealing a 12 cent gas tax, while celebrating and defending the ‘Swamp 8’ even as they were derided statewide on talk radio.

The Democrats handily turned the “Gas Tax Repeal” into the “Road Repair Repeal” and crushed the feckless GOP at the ballot box.

The so-called leaders of the CA GOP refused to heed the one unifying message that Steve Bannon delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2017, right after President Trump took office: namely, that when the Republican establishment and the conservative base work together, we cannot be defeated.

The inverse of that is that if we fail to work together, we cannot win.

Whatever rises from the ashes of the party that birthed the gold standard of Republicanism — Ronald Reagan — must understand that the only way to win from the super minority is to wage the kind of political guerrilla warfare waged by the Founders.

As Samuel Adams said: “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brushfires of freedom in the minds of men.”

Rather than taking the easy road and blaming Trump for its woes, the CA GOP leadership should take a hard look in the mirror, unanimously resign in shame — and let a real leader step up and take charge.

Only then will there be any hope for the party of real “Resistance” to rise again and become an effective opposition  in the People’s Republic of California.

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